Meanwhile the Army of Northern Virginia had made a name in history under its famous commander, Joseph E. Johnston
, and I cannot speak that name without bowing the homage of my heart to the illustrious soldier and noble gentleman who bears it. Under his sagacious and brilliant leadership, his forces had been suddenly withdrawn from Patterson
's front near Winchester
, and united with those of General Beauregard
; and there, led by those two Generals
, the joint command had, on July 21st, 1861, routed the Army of the Potomac in the first pitched battle of the war; had given earnest of what the volunteers of the South
could do in action, and had crowned the new-born Confederacy with the glory of splendid military achievement.
Still later in the progress of events, Johnston
had exhibited again his strategic skill in holding Mc-Clellan at bay on the lines of Yorktown
, with a force so small that it seemed hardihood to oppose him with it—had eluded his toils by a retreat up the Peninsula
, so cleanly conducted, that little was lost beyond the space vacated—had turned and fiercely smitten his advancing columns near the old Colonial Capitol of Williamsburg
on May 5th, 1862, and had planted his army firmly around Richmond
Pending the siege of Yorktown
, a thing had happened that probably had no parallel in history.
The great body of General Johnston
's army had reorganized itself under the laws of the Confederacy
, while lying under the fire of the enemy's guns, the privates of each company electing by ballot the officers that were to command them.
A singular exercise of suffrage was this, but there was ‘a free ballot and a fair count,’ and an exhibition worthy of
That fierce Democracy that thundered over Greece
To Macedon and Artaxerxes' throne.
—an exhibition which would have delighted the heart of Thomas Jefferson
, and which certainly put to blush the autocratic theory that armies should be mere compact masses of brute force.
on, May 31st, Johnston
had sallied forth and stormed and taken the outer entrenchments and camps of McClellan
's army at Seven Pines
, capturing ten pieces of artillery, six thousand muskets, and other spoils of war, and destroying the prestige of the second ‘On to Richmond
But ere the day was done victory had been checked, and glory had exacted costly tribute, for Johnston
himself had fallen, terribly wounded.
The hero, covered with ten wounds received in Florida
, had been prostrated by another; and when June 1st dawned on the confronting armies, the Army of Northern Virginia was without the leader who held its thorough confidence, but now lay stricken well-nigh unto death.
The casualty which thus deprived the army of its honored commander, and closed to him the opportunity which, in large measure, his own great skill had created, opened the opportunity of Lee
. Fortunate the State
, and great the people from whom sprung two such sons—fortunate the army that always had a leader worthy of it—happy he who can transmit his place to one so well qualified to fill it—and happy likewise he who has had such predecessor to prepare the way for victory.